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Islamic State Claims Credit for Nice Attack as Investigation Continues

Islamic State Claims Credit for Nice Attack as Investigation Continues

As French authorities continue to investigate whether the Islamic State had any command or control over Thursday’s deadly truck attack in Nice, which left 84 dead and more than 200 injured, the terrorist group issued a claim of responsibility on Saturday.

French authorities have identified the attacker as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, a Tunisia-born French resident who intentionally drove a tractor-trailer into a crowd of civilians celebrating Bastille Day and then opened fire on them before he was shot and killed by police.

Saturday’s claim of responsibility in an English-language statement issued by Amaq, the group’s self-described news agency, said Bouhlel was a “soldier of the Islamic State.”

“He executed the operation in response to calls to target citizens of coalition nations, which fight the Islamic State,” the statement said.  

SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi group messaging, said the Islamic State also broadcasted its claim of responsibility on its radio station, Al Bayan, warning that “crusader states” are not safe from the group.

French authorities have still not produced any evidence to back up the Islamic State’s claim to have played a role in the attack, the third such carried out on French soil in the past 18 months.

The group has leapt to claim responsibility for various attacks before, seeking to capitalize on lone-wolf terrorists as an opportunity to inflate their capabilities to conduct terrorism, particularly in Western countries. And counterterrorism officials have expressed concern that despite U.S.-led coalition gains against the group in Iraq and Syria, which have prompted a loss of control over territory and resources, the group will launch more attacks in Europe and, potentially, the United States.

The Islamic State has called on sympathizers to target civilians in the countries that make up the coalition — calls that have been answered with a deadly result, particularly in France.

While French authorities have said Bouhlel had a criminal record, including a weapons charge as recently as January, he was not on any watch lists for terrorism or radicalization. He was “completely unknown by intelligence services, both at the national and local levels,” François Molins, the French prosecutor who oversees terrorism investigations, said in a press conference on Friday.

But on Saturday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said for the first time that investigators believe the attacker, who had been living in Nice for at least six years, was “radicalized” — and quickly.

He “radicalized his views very rapidly,” Cazeneuve said Saturday, citing initial findings of the investigation after interviews with the attacker’s acquaintances but providing no additional details. “We are now facing individuals who are responding positively to the messages issued by the Islamic State without having had any special training and without having access to weapons that allow them to commit mass murder.”

Photo credit: GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images